Early in my sales career I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Hopkins. Tom Hopkins is my sales hero; and author of numerous books on the art of selling. We met briefly while walking on the way to breakfast during a two-day sales seminar. As we walked, this titan of the sales profession introduced himself to me. My reply was an outstretched hand and, “Pulley, nice to meet you.”
He stopped and looked at me: “Pulley?”
I quickly explained that since kindergarten (where there were four other boys named John) I have been known simply as Pulley. He said, “That’s great. I use your name in most of my seminars. I tell salespeople all the time to stop being pushy but to be pulley.”
Aside from the benefit of getting more than passive attention from one of my heroes, the principle of being “pulley,” not “pushy” has guided my career – from sales to my role today as an inbound marketing provider.
You can’t throw a stick today without hitting a discussion amongst sales and marketing professionals about understanding prospects and adapting existing strategies or adopting new ones to sell to them. And stop fooling yourself; the process of selling today is not evolving – it is ALREADY evolved.
Egotistic Prospects Versus Egotistic Companies
Merriam-Webster defines an egotistic person as one who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Up until 20 years ago, we, as sales professionals, owned the information. The Internet has broken that information monopoly and prospects can research as they choose.
As technology providers, prospects are no longer wowed or impressed by you, your latest features, or the cool technology software that will allow them to manage a document workflow. Right now I suspect that there are some of you who are thinking, “This guy is an idiot, of course people care about that stuff.”
Really? Then explain to me why your reps have gone through your sales process and discussed the features and benefits of your technology solution, but don’t close? Prospects often decide to stick with what they already have. Some of them might even acknowledge that your solution is better than what they currently have, but are still unwilling to change.
It is time that we give more than lip service to how we sell and market. It is time to become a solution provider.
Reps who win
Think about the top salespeople inside of your organization. How does their approach differ from those on your sales team whose performance is mediocre or poor?
During my first year in sales, one of the other sales reps found out that my wife was an attorney. He asked me if I would mind if he could take her to lunch so he could speak to her about how her law firm did business. Their conversation at lunch centered around what goes on inside of the law firm. He wanted to understand how they prepared for a case. He wanted to know what they do to prepare for deposition. He asked questions about what physical documents they used and, more importantly, why they were using them.
He left a one-hour lunch with a set of strategies for walking into a law firm with one goal in mind – to speak about their documents, the way that they use them, and to create a solution that was tailored specifically to them and spoke their language. His research was more than an attempt to get a sale. He was looking to learn what they were interested in, what was valuable to them, and to create a solution that he could then present to them using their language and their objectives.
Top-performing sales reps do this as a practice, not as a one-time event. This rep did the same thing with CPAs, manufacturing facilities, educational facilities, health-care facilities, and many more. What developed from this was a true sales professional who could walk into any business armed with the ability to bridge the gap between what they were currently doing to a solution that would genuinely improve what they were doing.
Time, effort, genuine interest, and education were required to become the highest performing copier salesperson in the state. It did not happen overnight. It did not happen by doing it in only one industry. The skillset needed to perform at this level of excellence remains a marathon and not a sprint.
First in still wins, but it’s not your sales team
One of the first things I heard from my sales trainer when I began selling for Lanier in the 1990s was “first in wins.” This conventional sales wisdom is still true. Now, however, “first in” means something entirely different.
By now (I hope for your business’ sake), you’ve seen this research statistic put out by CEB (formerly known as the Corporate Executive Board) in 2012:
B2B buyers are 57 percent of the way through the decision-making process BEFORE they are engaging with a vendor.
I mentioned already the lost information monopoly that salespeople once had. How do you buy anything today? If you’re like most people, you start with a Google search (and check out the ratings on Amazon or Google Business Pages). Google has stolen the keys to the kingdom of information. Back in the 1990s, the BLI and the sales professional were the only way people learned about copiers. Having control over more of the sale was, to be blunt, fantastic for us.
The role of sales consultant has moved to the web. While the top-performing sales professionals who continuously hone their skillsets, language, and solutions to fit the unique needs of a business will always be crucial, in today’s world they are rarely “first in.” Today, the credibility of your online marketing is the single most important factor in being “first in.”
How Xerox raised
revenues 17 percent
Xerox internalized the principles introduced in The Challenger Sale and the Challenger Customer by CEB, which suggest disrupting customers’ thinking to differentiate: “In today’s world of empowered customers who set their own buying criteria, a content strategy that builds up customers’ thinking will at best get consideration and commoditization with it.”
To align their unique value proposition within the educational market, Xerox embarked upon a journey to discover how they could speak the language of the education market and connect the dots to their printers. They needed to find a way to teach educational prospects about their own business. The Xerox case study produced by CEB showed how they accomplished this (https://www.cebglobal.com/marketing-communications/b2b-emotion/develop-commercial-insights.html).
By interviewing sales representatives and customers, Xerox discovered that educators wanted to increase student engagement. Without engagement and performance, funding could be in jeopardy. In mapping out why educators believed students performed poorly, a hidden connection between student performance and color was found.
The first generation to grow up online spent most of its time on iPads or other tablets, and smartphones. The students were used to seeing vibrant colors and engaging on those devices. When given black-and-white printouts, these students would lose concentration.
Introducing color printouts re-engaged students who think the screen is broken when they see a black and white movie. The use of vibrant color attracted far more interest and attention.
Xerox could have continued to tout the features of their color lineup. Instead, they took the time to understand the goals and challenges of the educational system and uncovered how color printers can help educational systems accomplish the engagement and performance needed for students to perform well. This, in turn, would lead to more financial resources for the educational system to continue their work.
Out of this insight, the educational landing page was changed on the website. So what’s the payoff?
• 81 percent more traffic to the Xerox K-12 landing page
• 17 percent increase in K-12 revenues
Research and Marketing Teams
You need to change the way you are “first in” to your prospects. You still need to do what great salespeople have done forever – understand the needs of the customer, speak to them in their own language, and help them improve their business. The way you do that today is different.
You need to have a stellar Web presence to be first in. You need to be answering questions on your website that your prospects may be asking Google. You need to be sharing your content on social channels so it can be found. Your sales reps should be taking all the knowledge they’ve always shared with the prospects and share it on their personal social channels to strengthen their online brand, which strengthens the company’s online brand.
So what are you waiting for? Go be less pushy and more pulley.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.